Today was not about ratings points. Qualifying. Or even heat scores. It was about survival. In some of the most challenging yet majestic Sunset ever seen for an event here, competitors today were thrown into a class-5 rip, 12- to 15-foot northwest bombs with six- to eight-wave washthrough sets every 10 minutes, and told to "give it their all."
We watched so many of today's competitors struggle. Guys like Dayan Neve getting sucked out to sea past Kammies, having to be rescued and never catching a wave. Guys like Timmy Reyes, who got washed to the inside, picked up by the water patrol and had his board broken in the process. Or Ian Walsh, who couldn't get back to the beach after his heat win for a full 25 minutes. And especially guys like Sunny Garcia, who was so close to a historic re-qualification this year, who started off the heat with a 9 and had five minutes to catch a 2.5 to advance.
He never found it.
A huge, mid-day washthrough poured through the lineup, mowing him to the inside and dousing his ASP World Tour dreams in thick, white foam. It got so bad during the mid-day heats, that it almost felt like you were watching one of those brutal boxing matches, where one guy is on his knees, getting pummeled, and you're just begging the ref to call the fight. But the refs didn't call this fight. They let competitor after competitor, heat after heat, take the same cruel and unusual punishment. "I can understand if this were the last day of the waiting period," said Taylor Knox, who lost on a questionable countback call today. "But there's at least three more days left that would give us a better opportunity to actually surf. Yeah, it's great to test our ocean skills, but when guys like Pancho Sullivan are getting heat score totals of less than five points, you know something's wrong."
But as is usually the case in Sunset conditions like these, some people thrived in them. People you might not expect, who just happened to be in a perfect rhythm for a 30-minute span. There was Yadin Nicol, still benefiting from his heavy lifting on blustery Sunday, who went out and smashed it today and got one step closer to his cutoff point for ASP World Tour qualification: the semis. Surfing against reigning champ Makua Rothman, Taj Burrow and trying-to-qualify Shaun Gossman, Yadin could simply do no wrong. At one point in between all the chaos, he found a pristine, 8-foot wedge that he dismantled all the way to the channel for a nine something. He then backed it up with a high seven. Jordy Smith was also with the Force, channeling his 2006 runner-up finish and linking big-boy turns for one of the highest combined heat scores of the day. And then there's the Gudauskas trio. Pat needing to make the quarters to solidify his spot on the ASP World Tour, Dane and Tanner gunning for glory points. All succeeded on all accounts, with Patrick picking up the highest wave score of the day and Dane grab-rail bottom-turning a set that's easily approaching the 15-foot range. One more heat, and Pat should be a lock on the dream tour, with his brothers likely to be right behind him.
It was such a relentless succession of sets, guys didn't seem to make much of a fuss over anything after their heats. For them, there's only one thing that matters more right now than doing well in this event: their lives. "In all my years of competing," said Ian Walsh. "I've never fought a current like that. I'm stoked to win, but I'm even more stoked that I made it back to the beach."
2008 Triple Crown Coverage:
STOP #3 – BILLABONG PIPELINE MASTERS / BILLABONG PRO MAUI
WAITING PERIODS STARTS DEC 8th